Reading the Cosmos in Second Temple Jewish Literature: Nature as Model, Sign, Punishment, Witness, and Mystery Restricted; Files Only

Wyse-Rhodes, Jackie (Fall 2018)

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Within both biblical and post-biblical Jewish materials, the natural world plays a variety of roles: it appears, for example, within the context of theophanies and oracles, eschatological scenes of judgment, heavenly tours, and treatises concerning astronomy, uranography­­­ and cosmology. Perhaps because of this variety, scholars of the period have not generally explored “nature” as an independent category. As a result, the very pervasiveness of nature’s presence throughout Second Temple literature is sometimes missed. This dissertation seeks to redress this imbalance, by examining exemplary texts in which nature occupies five particular categories of significance: nature as a model for humankind, nature as a sign of things to come (usually impending judgment), nature as an instrument of judgment, nature as a giver of testimony (or witness), and nature as a heavenly mystery and cosmic secret. In the end, these depictions of the natural world in Second Temple Jewish literature are dependent upon the assumption that nature is, above all, an orderly ecosystem, created and sustained by God. The chief point of departure for this project is to observe and describe the ways the literature itself presents the natural world to its readers, and to ask: How did Second Temple scribes make rhetorical appeals to the natural world in their religious writings, and why was it important for them to do so? In the end, in spite of the diversity apparent in this literature, in general the scribes assume the following: the natural world is orderly, and therefore praiseworthy­­; the natural world is predictable, and therefore any aberrations in its behavior require interpretation; the natural world is a mystery, and yet, within given boundaries, its secrets might be approached, though they may not always be fathomed.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction–1

A Brief History of Research–3

Recent Monographs on Nature and Apocalypses–7

The Scope of this Project–12

Chapter 2: The Natural World as Model for Human Righteousness–19

The Book of the Luminaries: An Ordered Natural World–21

2 Baruch 48: An Ordered Natural World without Agency–32

More Texts Featuring the Orderliness of Nature–35

Problems with Orderliness–48

Nature as Model in 1 Enoch 2:1–5:3–66


Excursus: Sifre to Deuteronomy and 1 Clement–74

Chapter 3: The Natural World as Sign–79

Signs in Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman Traditions–83

The Regularity of Nature as Signpost for Recurring Events–87

The Irregularity of Nature as Sign for Contingent Events I: Signs and Wonders–107

The Irregularity of Nature as Sign for Contingent Events II: Omens–115

Conclusion: The Natural World as Sign of Restoration–131

Chapter 4: The Natural World as Instrument of Judgment and Giver of Testimony–134

Nature as Covenant Witness in the Bible–136

Nature as Instrument of Punishment–143

The Role of Nature as Witness Expanded–160

The Natural World as Witness in the Epistle of Enoch–168


Excursus: Natural World as Witness in Sifre to Deuteronomy177

Chapter 5: The Natural World as Heavenly Mystery and Cosmic Secret180

Divine Knowledge in Job–185

Enoch among the Ascent Apocalypses187

The Ascents of Levi and Abraham–209

 “Mysteries” at Qumran–218

List-making as Codification of Mystery in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch–229


Chapter 6: Conclusion–241


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